Researchers scanned the brains of nine advanced physics and engineering students as they thought through 30 physics concepts such as momentum, entropy and electric current. The researchers fed the data from the scans into a machine-learning computer program, which eventually could identify which concept a volunteer was thinking about based on his or her brain activity. To take it further, the scientists then compared the scans from their study with previous research matching neural activity to thought processes.
They found that brain responses corresponding to the scientific concepts of frequency or wavelength occurred in the same regions that activate when people watch dancers, listen to music or hear rhythmic patterns such as a horse's gallop. And when the students thought through mathematical equations, the engaged brain areas were the same as those that process sentences. These results suggest that general neural structures are repurposed for dealing with high-level science. The findings may someday help determine which school lessons should be taught together for easiest consumption.